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Mathematics, study of relationships among quantities, magnitudes, and properties and of logical operations by which unknown quantities, magnitudes, and properties may be deduced. In the past, mathematics was regarded as the science of quantity, whether of magnitudes, as in geometry, or of numbers, as in arithmetic, or of the generalization of these two fields, as in algebra. Toward the middle of the 19th century, however, mathematics came to be regarded increasingly as the science of relations, or as the science that draws necessary conclusions. This latter view encompasses mathematical or symbolic logic, the science of using symbols to provide an exact theory of logical deduction and inference based on definitions, axioms, postulates, and rules for combining and transforming primitive elements into more complex relations and theorems. This brief survey of the history of mathematics traces the evolution of mathematical ideas and concepts, beginning in prehistory. Indeed, mathematics is nearly as old as humanity itself; evidence of a sense of geometry and interest in geometric pattern has been found in the designs of prehistoric pottery and textiles and in cave paintings.

Primitive counting systems were almost certainly based on using the fingers of one or both hands, as evidenced by the predominance of the numbers 5 and 10 as the bases for most number systems today.

Ancient Mathematics

The earliest records of advanced, organized mathematics date back to the ancient Mesopotamian country of Babylonia and to Egypt of the 3rd millennium BC. There mathematics was dominated by arithmetic, with an emphasis on measurement and calculation in geometry and with no trace of later mathematical concepts such as axioms or proofs.

The earliest Egyptian texts, composed about 1800 BC, reveal a decimal numeration system with separate symbols for the successive powers of 10 (1, 10, 100, and so forth), just as in...